Peter Kropotkin – the Russian Prince, famed scientist and anarchist thinker – wrote, in the 1890s, that a revolution will fail if it doesn’t secure its food supply: "Bread, it is bread that the Revolution needs!" Unless this happens,
“the people began to grow weary. ‘So much for your vaunted Revolution! You are more wretched than ever before,’ whispered the reactionary in the ears of the worker. And little by little the rich took courage, emerged from their hiding-places, and flaunted their luxury in the face of the starving multitude. They dressed up like scented fops and said to the workers: ‘Come, enough of this foolery! What have you gained by rebellion?’”
This is remarkably prescient with regard to Venezuela. Since the 1960s, Venezuela has abandoned its agriculture sector, money from oil exports making it relatively cheap to just import food instead. It now imports the vast majority of its food – in 2010 the figure was 70 per cent. As the WTO reports, “currently Venezuelan food security is being predicated on cheap imports paid for by high oil revenues”. Former President Chavez spoke rhetorically about increasing self-sufficiency, but under him food imports only went up.
This has meant two things: first, that a fall in oil prices has left Venezuela subject to ruin, and, second, that the food supply is centrally controlled, making it subject to corrupt practices and private sector sabotage. “Come, enough of this foolery! What have you gained by rebellion?”, whisper the reactionaries.
Echoing Kropotkin, in 1996 La Via Campesina, “the international peasant’s voice”, coined the term ‘Food Sovereignty’. This “prioritises local food production and consumption, giving a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control its production”.
Food Sovereignty has become a remarkable movement, with impressive results. Consider Bolivia, “run by socialists every bit as militant as Venezuela’s”, according to The Washington Post. There, in 2009, the concept was incorporated into its constitution, and they have taken it seriously: Bolivia now produces 95% of its own food. There have been remarkable results according to the Post – “spectacular” economic growth, huge poverty reduction and dramatically shrinking inequality.
La Via Campesina prove Kropotkin right: “Let others spend their time in issuing pompous proclamations, in decorating themselves lavishly with official gold lace, and in talking about political liberty!...
“The idea of the people will be to provide bread for all.”